Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Immigrants and English

As if they read my blog last night, the Denver Post published a story today entitled "Americanizing New Arrivals," which addressed the issue of English acquisition among immigrants. According to the story, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Citizenship (so much for Republicans reducing bureaucracy) will offer new programs designed to help immigrants assimilate. No word on whether they'll be checking papers at the door, but the implication is that various offices will be opened and businesses enlisted to aid in the study of English and tutoring for the citizenship test. In all honesty, this seems like a great idea, though I am wondering how it will play among the English-only/deport-the-illegals wing of the Republicans. The plan is certainly a practical approach, though its impetus smacks of naivete in terms of immigrants and the history of assimilation in this country.

The story begins by noting "Foreign-language signs touting Spanish-language preschool, Vietnamese groceries, Ethiopian church services, Korean car repair and Russian money-exchange hint at Denver's fast-growing immigrant cocoons that nurture ties to the old country." Clearly, there are many people in the country who are quite unnerved that immigrants don't immediately abandon their native culture, not to mention the language (because acquiring a new language is just so easy, especially for populations not necessarily well-educated in their first language). However, there have always been Little Italys, Greektowns, Chinatowns, etc. In my small hometown of Alton, Illinois, I grew up with three Catholic churches within blocks of each other - each had historically different ethnicities. I've also heard of many people whose great-grandparents never really picked up English, though their grandparents and parents were fluent English speakers.

That's the way it's always been, and that's the way it will always be. Critics tend to be naive about the history of the United States, and that ignorance often leads people to be afraid of the wrong things.

1 comment:

andbrooke said...

Thanks for the food for thought. I read your last post as well. I agree that English-only laws are usually proposed out a sense of paranoia and false urgency rather than a real need.

Imagine if schools were prohibited by an poorly-worded law from sending home school documents in Spanish? Many non-English speaking parents are already difficult to reach and understandably timid about dealing with school administration in another language.

I think people who want to force immigrants out of our society are short-sighted (and dare I say bigoted?). The problem of integrating immigrants into society is huge, especially at the school level. However, the cost of NOT attempting to do so I believe would be far greater.